THE SUPREME COURT DISAGREES THAT DECISION TO REFUSE THE ADMITTANCE TO STATE SECRET SHOULD BE APPEALED AT THE DEPARTMENT OF ADMINISTRATIVE CASES

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3 July 2017

The Supreme Court sent a letter to the Ministry of Justice expressing its objections to the amendments to the Law "On State Secrets" announced on 15 June at the State Secretaries' Meeting. The Supreme Court opposes the envisaged appeal of the decision of the Prosecutor General before the Department of Administrative Cases of the Supreme Court as the first and only court instance.

The Supreme Court points out that such a solution cannot be supported, firstly, from a systemic point of view. The imposition of such an obligation on the Supreme Court is contrary to the essence of the cassation instance. The main task of the cassation instance is to ensure that the lower courts carry out uniform and correct application of the law in order to resolve particular conflicts. Legal disputes related to the refusal to issue admission to state secrets are based on disputes over factual circumstances. The factual circumstances of the legal dispute are explained and evaluated by lower courts (district courts and regional courts) rather than by the Supreme Court.

Secondly, the foreseen exception would create a false idea to the public that the judges of the lower courts approved by the Saeima cannot be relied on when dealing with matters related to state secrecy issues. The Supreme Court points out that no legal arguments have yet been put forward to justify why such an exception to the principles of the judicial system should be created. From a legal point of view, it is also evident that policy makers give the public a signal that lower courts cannot be relied on when dealing with disputes related to refusal to allow the work with state secrets, thereby further undermining public confidence in the courts and the state as a whole.

Thirdly, the envisaged solution would require additional funds from the state budget, as the Supreme Court currently has insufficient resources to deal with such cases. The Department of Administrative Cases currently lacks the resources to ensure that cases reviewed under cassation procedure are examined within a reasonable period of time. At present, there are more than 900 cases pending at the Department (reviewed by 10 judges), of which about 100 cases were received in 2015. Comparatively, the Administrative Regional Court has 837 cases pending (reviewed by 23 judges).

Taking into account that cases related to refusal to issue an admission to work with state secrets will have to be reviewed within 2 months, this would be a significant increase in the workload for the Department of Administrative Cases. Already, the Department of Administrative Cases views certain categories of cases out of turn (for example, children's rights cases, civil service cases); and in these cases the time limit for adjudication in the cassation instance is  6 months on average. As the review of such cases in the Department of Administrative Cases, as a court of first instance, would already increase the time period for adjudication of the other cases, then in addition to the shortened deadline for adjudication of such cases, the deadlines for processing other cases would be further increased.

These are the main arguments put forward by the Supreme Court to both the working group for draft law and in the letter to the Ministry of Justice.

Information prepared by

Rasma Zvejniece, the Head of the Division of Communication of the Supreme Court

E-mail: rasma.zvejniece@at.gov.lv, telephone: +371 67020396, +371 28652211